For Southgate resident Keith Ferrell, the neighborhood's new residential-parking program is off to a great start.
The narrow streets once served as parking lots for Palo Alto High students and employees from a handful of medical businesses on El Camino Real. That changed in December, when the city began fully enforcing the new Residential Preferential Program, which limited parking to two hours for cars without permits.
Now, with a parking-occupancy rate of about 22 percent, the streets are safer and parking is easier, Ferrell and other neighbors told the City Council on Monday night.
"The streets are lovely now, like they were when I moved here -- and my kids can roam the streets freely," Ferrell said.
The view is starkly different from the suite of Dr. Michael Papalian, who works at Plastic Surgery Center, one of several medical businesses at 1515 El Camino Real. The new program allows up to six permits for each Southgate resident. But for the dozens of plastic surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists and other medical professionals who occupy the building, it allocates a total of 10.
The 10 stalls in the building's parking lot are generally reserved for patients, which means employees have long parked on the streets. Now, most can't get permits and have a hard time finding parking.
With so many spaces now open on a street outside the office, Papalian argued that the council should support a recommendation from transportation-planning staff to add 15 more employee permits to the program. He reminded the council that the streets are public and that the city's own surveyors confirmed the low parking-occupancy rate.
"Just because residents raise their voices, doesn't mean it's right, doesn't mean it's fair," Papalian said.
The tussle between residents and businesses created a dilemma for the council. On the one hand, council members sympathized with the workers and deemed their concerns reasonable. On the other, the city didn't start fully enforcing the one-year pilot program until December. Most residents at Monday's meeting argued that changing it so early in the process is counterproductive.
The council found the latter argument persuasive and balked at making any immediate changes. Instead, council members opted to wait another six months before reassessing the program.
But in a nod to the employees, the council also supported expanding the Residential Preferential Permit district to the west side of El Camino Real, with the idea of making those parking spots available for area employees.
Some council members said that adding a small number of employee permits won't make much of a difference to Southgate's parking situation. Councilman Greg Scharff said doing so would be a good way to support valuable resident-serving businesses.
"I think we need to resolve this without losing the businesses," Scharff said. "I think we need to be sensitive. ... They've been here a long time and I don't know how we can just say that they can't park here."
Councilman Adrian Fine agreed and argued that the impact of the proposed change would be minimal.
"Our city is made up of residents, businesses and nonprofits and we have an obligation to serve all of them," Fine said.
Others, including Mayor Liz Kniss and Councilman Greg Tanaka, echoed the residents and said it's too soon to change the program. Kniss said she feels "very strongly that the pilot should have at least some length of time."
"Four weeks is a really short period of time," Kniss said.
Thus, the council settled on a solution: leave the permit system the way it is and steer the employees to the west side of El Camino. The council voted unanimously to direct staff to craft a resolution designating the segment of El Camino across of Southgate as part of the parking district.
Because El Camino is a state highway, the council will need approval from the state Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to make the change. Assuming Caltrans approves, the city would then proceed to release an additional 15 permits to the workers.